North Water Rescue & Paddling Equipment makes some of the best paddling gear. Everything that I’ve tried or owned from them feels high quality and seems well thought out. I may not like all their gear, but some I’ve found that I just can’t live without, such as the Under Deck Bag. North Water likes to give paddlers lots of options, and, boy, do they give a sea kayaker options in tow lines. As of 2011, they offered seven different styles of tow lines in their sea kayak line, plus several lines in their whitewater section that might interest sea kayakers. I’ve used both the Quick Release Rescue Tow Line and the Sea Tec Tow Line (in several incarnations). Although similar, North Water gears them towards slightly different crowds.
Why a Tow Line?
When I first started kayaking, a paddling partner of mine bought his first tow line, and I didn’t see much need for it. What could happen, right? Well, now years later, I know exactly what can happen. Over the years, I’ve towed people who couldn’t balance in waves, who got sea sick, who ran out of energy, who couldn’t hold a course in wind, who capsized in a nasty area and needed towed to someplace nicer for rescue and for many other reasons. Once you’re on the water, stuff happens. You plan to prevent it, but when it happens, a tow rope helps fix the situation. Another not so nice situation happened to an area outfitter. It was a nasty day on Lake Superior with a small craft advisory. I had a kayak tour that day, so I took my group to a protected inland lake, but this other outfitter decided to paddle the big lake. Within minutes, one of his participants capsized. He ordered the rest of the group back to shore, put the capsized paddler into his boat and then the paddler capsized again. The guide made the decision to bring the paddler back on the rear deck of his kayak. The guide didn’t own a tow rope (negligent, IMHO), so he let the boat go. During the scramble back at shore, he lost his boat out into the lake. In all, he lost two boats that remain unrecovered. With a tow rope and a paddle float (or two), the guide could have inflated the float, put it on the end of the victims paddle and towed him to shore, or he could have set up a short tow to allow the paddler to lean against the guide’s boat as he brought him in. With a tow system, there are many other possibilities. It’s well worth having one along.
Features and Specifications
The Quick Release Rescue Tow Line features 55 feet of 1/4-inch floating line, a bungee cord for shock absorption, a bag with a big mouth, a carabiner, a brass hook connected to the bag’s inside, a foam float and a quick-release belt buckle. The Sea Tec version includes 30 feet of 1/4-inch floating line, a bag with a big mouth, reflective strips on the bag, a carabiner, bungee cord for shock absorption, a metal eye on the belt to clip the ‘biner into and a foam float. It also converts into a deck-mounted tow rope.
Sea Tec vs. Quick Release Rescue
Both designs are well thought out, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better system (One note: although hugely different, Kokatat’s system is worth looking at). They each have a large bag with a wide mouth that is easy to repack after a tow. The bags fold up and velcro away when not in use. The foam floats are just large enough to keep the ‘biners floating, but small enough to stay out of the way. The 1/4-inch line floats and feels easy to handle. The bungee cord arrangement is slightly different on both. On the Sec Tec, it’s near the bag and on the QR, it’s near the carabiner. Although the later could catch on something and cause problems during the tow, I haven’t experienced any. The bag on the Sea Tec version converts into a deck tow system and has reflective strips. Both features that the QR should have.
The Sea Tec Tow Line outshines the Quick Release Rescue Tow, except in two ways. In Canadian waters, paddlers must carry a 15 meter throw rope. At 55 feet long, the Quick Release Rescue Tow meets the rope requirement for kayakers, but the Sea Tec version doesn’t. You could retrofit the Sea Tec line to meet the requirement. The second advantage that the Quick Release tow has over the other is the internal brass hook, which makes it easy to quickly adjust the tow’s length. To work it, you clip the end ‘biner into the kayak you’re going to tow, pay out line to the length you want, then tie a knot (figure-8 on a bight, slip knot, or a other easy-to-untie knot), then clip the knot into the brass hook. To change the length, you unclip, untie, pay out more rope or pull in some rope, retie and reclip. It may sound complicated, but in practice, it’s quick. To vary line length in the Sea Tec system, you daisy chain the rope and use an additional carabiner to hold the daisy chain to the right length.
I own the Quick Release Rescue Tow, because I bought it before the Sea Tec version was available. If I had to buy again, I’d buy the Sea Tec version. To make the QR version better, I added a metal eye on the belt to clip the ‘biner, which keeps it ready. If they offered the Quick Release with reflective tape and a deck tow upgrade, I might change my tune. I highly recommend the Sea Tec Tow Line — just get a longer rope when used on Canadian waters.
Sea Tec Tow Line | $125 | Buy
Quick Release Rescue Tow | $95